The Way Out is Through: Parts 1 & 2.

The Way Out is Through.

Part One.

 

In the beginning, we remained under the covers, rolling between the sheets, showered in diffused amber sunlight. 

In the end, static from the car radio stole my attention.  Once again, I was preoccupied with something more important.  I fidgeted with the knobs and she yelled, but of course, her words were lost on me.  Fed up, I punched the plastic interface and wailing feedback blared through the speakers.  The wheel drifted and we slid seamlessly.  Oncoming headlights filled the car with a blinding incandescence, but by the time I even cared to notice it was already too late.

Awake.                                                                                                     

My eyelids twitched.  The morning sunlight shrunk my pupils, and the world around me slowly came into focus.  I was home.  Home and hung-over, having passed out in front of my typewriter again.  The bottle laid next to me, headless and drained.  I peeled my face from my desk, shielding my eyes from the light while massaging my inflated skull.                                                                                      

Damn.  It'd been two weeks and I still couldn't get that dream out of my head.  It was more like a nightmare; her screams still reverberated. 

I slapped myself to life and willed the courage to stand, stumbling my way into the bathroom.  I splashed cold water on my face and rinsed with mouthwash to cleanse myself of the night, to move on, to forget.  I was able to mask the liquor, but her taste still remained; her memory, it seemed, was permanent.            

I didn't want to dwell, or maybe I just didn’t care enough to understand, but once again I was preoccupied with more important things, like the fact that I hadn't written anything worth a good goddamn since my grandiose self-imposed write-or-die shut-in.  I was supposed to write the great American novel.  I was supposed to become something, a somebody, a big, bright, beautiful, shining star, but instead I'd been plagued with crippling writer's block and haunted by a repeating nightmare.

Oh, and let us not forget that the well was now dry as of last night.  There was no more booze to speak of, but that was okay, I would be fine; who needed it anyway? Only hacks use liquid courage.  This would be a good thing for me; I was planning to cut back as it were.

The real bad news, however, was that I was down to my last can of tuna fish.  After today I would have nothing left in my cabinets and cupboards except coffee, salt, and breadcrumbs, and nothing in the refrigerator except condiments.  I would have to become very resourceful if I hoped to continue eating. 

You know, I sometimes wonder if I could go on without it, if I could rid my body of its biological need for food.  What’s that old cliché, "Mind over matter," right?  I actually remember once reading a story about a kid who did just that, and like a drug, he quit cold turkey.  After a few weeks he ended up in the hospital yanking out his feeding tube before finally dropping dead on the cold tile floor.  Pity.  I would’ve done better.  But enough of that.  I get so easily sidetracked, spending too much time wondering and daydreaming and not nearly enough time working.  Right now what I needed was a good old fashion fire under my ass.                                             

I walked into my neglected kitchen (add it to my tab) and opened a cabinet containing the aforementioned tuna, one cylinder of breadcrumbs, and one crumbled foil bag of coffee—Coffee: the sweet, sweet nectar of life.  I reached in, and with fingertips, I softly picked up the bag of grounds, being careful not to crush the sensitive foil as I set it upon the counter.  I grabbed the coffee pot, rinsed it out, and filled it with cold tap.  I added a new pristine white filter and replaced the glass pot, all the while keeping my eyes glued on the crumpled, deformed foil.  Resting my hands on the counter, I took a deep breath and closed my eyes.  I whispered to myself: “This is no longer an empty bag, rather it is supple and fragrant.”  I steadied my nose above the opening of the bag and took a savoring whiff.  I continued, “The potent smell of hazelnut will flood my senses with overwhelming euphoria.”  The palms of my hands began to sweat and I licked my perpetually dry lips.  I opened my eyes and stared at the label of the bag, "La Colombe."  My favorite.  I outstretched my hands and rounded its perimeter.  Breathing through my mouth, I cautiously peeled the foil, counting down from three, each number feeling a mile away from the last. 

Three…Two…One—" BOOM BOOM BOOM.  A pounding from my front door shot fear and panic up my spine, causing my hands to clench, crushing the hollow bag.  Goddamnit; it was empty all along.  I should have known better.                                         

BOOM BOOM BOOM.                                                                                  

"All right, I fucking hear you!" I wanted to say, but I kept my mouth shut.  I was on the fringe of hysteria, and if I lost my cool I was liable to say or do just about anything                                 

BOOM BOOM BOOM.                                                                                   

I repeated this month's mantra to myself, my assigned, "words of greatness," as my psychiatrist liked to call them: “Innocuous.  Invisible.  Immaculate,” I said, fixing my gaze on the door.  “Innocuous.  Invisible.  Immaculate.”

I slowly came back to my senses.  In control, I figured maybe if I quietly approached I could sneak a peek at whoever or whatever might be lurking on the other side.  I tiptoed to the peephole and peered through.  The undesirable happened to be none other than my rotund landlord, Francis Garland.  He was steaming, red in the face and wiping his shiny bald head with a rag while muttering to himself.  Again he pounded against my door, nearly bending the wood this time.  Jesus, his mitts were as big as lunchboxes. 

“Anybody home?”  He called.  “It’s already the 10th of the month!”                                                        

Shit.  I was late on rent again, yet another unchecked item on my endless to-do list.  It’s funny the things you tend to neglect when you’re, when you’re…well, when you’re preoccupied.                    

“Little prick,” I heard him say under his breath.  He took a folded piece of paper--probably an eviction notice--and a roll of scotch tape out of his coat pocket, sticking the paper onto my door.  He boomed one final time.  “Deadbeat!”  He said, waddling away, wheezing as he called the elevator.                       

The coast was soon clear.  I could've opened the door and grabbed the notice, but I had to be cautious.  Francis was a grade-A grease ball; surely one of his lackey goons would be posted by my door, waiting for me to slip up and show my face.  Better to be safe than sorry, I thought.  So long as that notice remained untouched, I could say I never saw it.  “Sorry, Francis, don’t know what you’re talking about,” I would say.  Out of sight, out of mind.                                                                     

I felt lightheaded, struck by a small dizzy-spell; these were becoming more frequent as of late.  I took the hint and trudged back into the kitchen for the Starkist smorgasbord.  I drained the metallic juice and plopped the treated pink puck onto a plate.  I scoured the fridge for any curious flourishes or final touches, settling on a dollop of expired spicy mustard.  Bon appetite.  I slowly forked my last meal while longingly staring at the pathetic crushed foil bag on the counter-top.  A cup of coffee would’ve been the perfect compliment, a good friend on a lonely night, a reminder that there is indeed a God.

Somewhere in the background of my fantasy, I heard the drop of a keychain and then the unmistakable sound of steel teeth chewing through a lock.  It was Francis, it had to be; the fucking whale was trying to force himself and his pathetic agenda into my apartment, force himself into my world, into my safe haven.                      

Well not today, you fuck.                                                                          

I sprinted to the door, practically throwing myself against it to keep it shut.  I looked through the peephole, eagerly darting from side to side, but to my surprise I saw nothing, no Francis, nor anyone else.  Much like the sad and sorry bag of coffee, the hallway was also empty.  God was dead.        

Angry and fed up with his constant teasing, I boomed my fist against the door.  “Show yourself!” I yelled, half-heartedly, waiting with tense knuckles, but nothing stirred; nothing dared stir.  For my sake, at least.

As I turned to walk away I noticed between my feet a small folded piece of paper.  Son-of-a-bitch must’ve tricked me, I thought, diverted my attention somehow and slipped it beneath my door.  The sneaky fuck.  “Coward,” I said, picking up the paper and unfolding it. 

It was a crumpled piece of white computer paper, and written in the center with what looked like smeared oily red lipstick were the words, “Wake Up.”                                                                                     

I scoffed and tore the note to shreds, staining my hands red in the process.  Wake up.  Some nerve.  I was awake, thank you very much.  I was more awake than ever before.  Self-aware, I could see myself from outside, floating just beyond my physical form.  I could see everything I wished for, everything I had become, and everything I had left to die in the past.  I was conscious of it all, the last time I had a good meal, the last time I had a stiff drink, and the last time I had a proper fuck; all now fleeting luxuries from another time, another life.                                                 

Suddenly, I was struck with brilliant inspiration.  I rushed into my kitchen, opened the cabinet beneath the sink, and dumped out the neon orange Homer bucket containing my tools.  I settled on hammer and a box of nails.  Then I tore my bookshelves from the wall, scattering Miller, Bukowski and the rest of the American degenerates all over the floor.  Haphazardly, I hammered the shelves across the doorway, protecting me and securing my stay, furthering my isolation. 

“Yeah, motherfucker,” I said.  “Try and get me now."                                                 

I wiped my face with my shirt; I had worked up a pretty good sweat, and was feeling dizzy again.  I needed to cool down before I passed out.  My apartment was a relic from the 20's and didn’t possess any semblance of a ventilation system, let alone central air, so my only hope was to open a window and pray for a good cross-breeze.  Thankfully, fall had just begun, so the temperature was dropping and the air outside was crisp, or at least I hoped it would be.                

I walked to the living room window overlooking the streets below.  I moved the latch and pushed up on the wooden frame, but it didn’t budge; ancient building, sometimes this happened.  I tried again, pushing harder, but still nothing.

"Great, just one more thing I need to worry about," I said, moving on to the next one.  I unlatched it and pushed the frame.  Nothing.  The wave of panic crested behind me.  I rushed to my bedroom to try those windows.  Same story.  What the fuck?  I inspected the wood; no glue or nails or screws keeping the windows closed.  “This is impossible,” I said, pushing again through grit teeth, but to no avail; the windows were wedged for good.                                                 

“Bull-fucking-shit!” I said, storming into the living room, kicking up books and tipping a lamp as I reached for my three-pound marble ashtray my father had given me for my birthday a few years ago.  A daily reminder of the very thing that would eventually kill him.  It was the last remaining piece of him in my life, but not for long.  

I squared up with the window, wound my arm, and pitched it, hoping to shatter the glass and spray dazzling shards through the air ready to rain upon unsuspecting pedestrians.

Only it didn't break.  The window remained, impossibly intact, without even a chip or a scratch.  I stood incredulous and dumbfounded as the ashtray bounced off of the glass and rebounded toward me, striking my face with such bone crushing vengeance that I was lifted off my feet and sent flying through the air.              

I was out cold before my ass even hit the floor.  Curtains.  Good night and good luck.    

 

Part Two.

 

I felt the sensation of falling, forever tumbling over myself in mid-air, spinning on a string in a downward spiral toward the great unknown. And then,   

Awake.

I came to, but I couldn’t open my eyes; they were glued, the blood thick and dry.  Damn.  How long was I out?  With my hands, I pried open my eyes, wincing through the pain as they slowly came to focus on the methodical spinning blades of my ceiling fan, their shadows dancing in and out of golden light. The sun must be setting.  It was magic hour.   

Head heavy, I lifted myself from the floor.  Suddenly struck with nausea, I stumbled to the bathroom, falling face first into the bowl.  So much for that last meal.  I washed my mouth out in the sink and flicked on the light, examining my head in the mirror.  The gash split my eyebrow, fresh blood pooling from my careless prodding.  Stitches would probably be a good idea.  I wet a rag and pressed it to the wound, the ruby water soaked my face.  “Great,” I said to myself.  “Just one more thing to worry about.”  Hm, that sounds familiar.

I wandered into the living room, hazy and half expecting to wade through a sea of shattered glass, but then I remembered what happened, or more importantly, what didn’t happen.  The window didn’t break, didn’t chip, didn’t crack; not even a hairline fracture on the fucker.  This is a joke, I thought to myself, my life a perpetual punch line.  How was this even possible? Reinforced glass?  Had Francis done this?  Came into my apartment--barged into my home when I was out one day?  He probably did it while I was at work—back when I used to work.  He could dedicate his entire day to the deed, take his time, relish being in my home without me knowing, making sure to stain everything with his greasy fat fingers.

Nausea returned, my brain pulsated against my skull.  I didn’t have time to worry about hypotheticals and logistics; I needed to get myself down the block to Urgent Care—fuck going to the E.R.  With intent, I walked to the front door ready to undo all of my earlier handiwork, ready to face the world and whoever might be posted outside in the hallway.  Ready to accept my responsibilities and my fate.

I gripped the boards and pulled, but the nails wouldn’t give.  With white knuckles I pulled, but still nothing.  Drenched in panic, I pounded my fists on the wood, cutting my skin and smearing blood across the grain.  “Francis!”  I screamed.  “You can’t do this to me!  Let me out of here!”

Winded, I peered through the peephole; half expecting to see him and his goons, their faces distorted in hysteria,  but nobody was there, the hallway was still and lifeless.  I gave up, crumbling to the floor in defeat, holding my knees to my chest.  One minute I want to lock myself away, and the next I’m in tears, begging to be let out like some sad and sorry mutt who accidentally shit the bed. 

Suddenly I heard the rustling of paper, another folded note being slipped under my door right beside me.  “Son of a bitch,” I muttered to myself, and then kicking the door, “Quit it; just leave me alone, you hear?”  But of course there was no response.  I picked up the note.  In neat typeface it read: “The way out is through.”  A riddle?  A test?  “How about I shove my boot right through your ass, fucker!” I called out.  The way out is through--utter bullshit.  If only I could get through my front door, if only I could open a window, if only the universe hadn’t aligned itself against me. 

“Enough!” I yelled, tearing the note into a dozen pieces.  “I am done playing your game.” 

I noticed the hammer, still lying idly on the floor.  I bent down and gripped the red-rubber handle, ready to destroy, ready to kill.  I hacked away at the boards, the door, and the wood frame, desperate for anything, any semblance of progress--cracks, tears, even so much as a goddamn splinter, but nothing; the wood remained immaculate, my efforts completely in vain.  Frustrated, I turned and threw the hammer like a tomahawk toward my living room wall where it miraculously stuck, the wedge driven cleanly through the drywall, suspending itself like a piece of modern art—the perfect centerpiece to my empire of shit.  

I approached the wall and yanked out the hammer, leaving behind a hole the size of a quarter.  Progress.  I put my eye to the hole—expecting what, I don’t know.  All I saw was darkness, a glimpse into nothing and a window to nowhere, but as the hair on the back of my neck sprang to attention and goose bumps littered my arms, I suddenly realized I wasn’t alone anymore.  Someone, something, was watching me from within. 

“Hello,” I called out.  “Anybody there?”  I put my ear to the hole, listening for movement, a sign of life.  I held my breath, and for a moment all I could hear was my pulse beating against my temples. 

And then, a whisper. 

“Jaaaaaaaack.”

What the? 

“Hello?” I called, voice cracking, body trembling.  “I hear you.”  The walls are talking to me, and here I am, talking right back.  I’ve definitely lost it now, gone mad, even, but I guess stranger things have happened.  As a wise man once said, We all go a little mad sometimes.  

Faintly, as if carried by an imaginary breeze, I heard the walls call back. “Jaaack,” they said.  “Help me, Jack.”

“Help you?”  What—how do you know my name?” I said, peering into the hole, but still I saw nobody, nothing in the dark.  “Hello? Answer me!” 

No response.  Radio Silence.

I stood there at a loss, and as feeling crept back into my body I realized the hammer was still in my hand, quivering.  The way out is through.  The way out…is through.  My fingers clamped around the red-rubber handle, and immediately it became clear to me what it was I needed to do.           

But Today Wasn't like Most Days.

But Today Wasn't Like Most Days.

 

Most days I remain glued to the computer screen from the moment I rise to the moment I decide to fire off one last time before bed.  I usually split my time clicking between multiple Internet tabs for inspiration, and then exposing my pride on webcam, putting on a show for lucky viewers, with me, mega stud, Max Michigan, as the star, front and center, rock hard and at my finest.  And never wanting the show to end, I’ve gone lengths to fool those watching me. Sometimes I’ll nix ejaculation--I am only human, after all--in favor of spraying endless loads of well-hydrated piss. If I pinch my shaft and moan accordingly, nobody's the wiser.  Trust me; I'm a professional.        

So, there I was, naked in my bathroom, sitting on the lip of the tub with a semi-erect cock and a bladder ready to burst.  My laptop perched on the toilet seat in front of me, headphones jacked in, and porn queued up.  I was ready to play.  

I logged into Skype to call one of my regulars—a dominatrix by the name of Venus.  For the last few months I’ve been paying Venus $10 a session for Jerk off instructions, or J.O.I., as they’re commonly referred to.  I deposited $10 into her Paypal account and called with my camera aimed solely on my fevered fapping, knowing full well Venus wouldn't give two shits about seeing my face.  I anticipated her getting right down to business and jumping into character, spewing her usual stream of filth and grime, but instead she answered looking glum, sniffling while dabbing a rag over her left eye.

“I’m going to have to let you go,” she said.  "For good."  

“Awe, come on, why?” I asked, eager to play. 

“I’m going to jail,” she said.   

“Yeah, ok, whatever,” I said.  “Come on, you want me to spray or what?”

“Max." she said soberly.  "I am going to jail.  I just fucking killed a guy.  There’s blood all over my floor!” Venus craned her neck to the right, staring, contemplating, letting the rag fall.  I noticed her eye was bloodshot and the socket puffy“I have to call you back,” she said.   

Before I could say anything Venus hung up and signed out, leaving me limp and dumbfounded.

What the fuck?

She couldn’t have possibly been serious, right?  I mean, you don’t just kill someone and then immediately answer a Skype call from some fucking pervert ready to piss all over himself; that can't possibly be your first move after murder.  

On the other hand, maybe it isn’t too far fetched of an idea, Venus killing somebody.  I know for a fact she's had some violent run-ins in the past.  I remember about a month ago she was camming with a black eye and a busted lip after getting, “Jumped by some junkie,” she said.  I can only wonder if her victim was the same guy; maybe it was payback, a well thought out plan.  Or maybe it was a crime of passion, self defense; a new client who was a little overzealous, took things just one step too far, leaving Venus no choice but to fight back, and then in a daze she continued about her day as if nothing had happened, business as usual.  

Regardless, if she's telling me the truth and she actually just fucking killed somebody, chances are I’ll be getting a call from the cops.  Think about it, the two of us communicated--possibly even corroborated in their minds--me with my dick in my hand, and her with a corpse by her feet.  That kind of thing requires explanation.  Great.  Just one more thing I need to worry about; yet another turn of the screw in the misadventures of Max Michigan.  

      

                  

 

Writers of the Road.

Writers of the Road.  

 

The game itself wasn't anything new.  Writers have been people watching since the first depressed son of a bitch picked up a pen instead of a bottle.  The rules were simple.  Choose somebody.  Somebody who’s interesting.  Somebody who sparks creativity. Then create a profile about them, write a story, and turn that person into a character.   

In college, my creative writing professor, Professor Pinyin, always encouraged us to go sit in a coffee shop or at a park or at a Laundromat and observe the sites.  I spent countless hours at tables in Starbucks watching people shuffle like zombies toward the counter and order the same goddamn soy caramel Macchiato with two shots of espresso.  Then they would either leave or sit quietly with their earbuds in and their eyes glued to their phone. Not very interesting material; in fact, I found it rather fucking boring. 

I like discussions, and I like having people to bounce ideas off of, so I enlisted the help of my friend Ricky, the only other writer I knew in the city that’s supposedly full of artists. 

Ricky and I had spoken about the game briefly in the past—spit-balled the idea, more like it. We thought it would be fun.  I mean, how hard could it be?  We were writers, after all.  We lived for storytelling.  Maybe we'd strike oil, or maybe it wouldn’t amount to anything, but we didn't care. We had the time, we had the minds, and we damn sure needed the material.  It'd been almost two years since either one of us had sold a screenplay, a pilot, or any significant piece of literature. Ricky had sold a little blurb to Buzzfeed back in October that landed him about $2500. That was a little victory, but now, we were in a rut. Two weeks without pay checks. Mom and dad were of no help either, Ricky's anyway. Mine were more or less dead to me, so there was little help they could offer even if I wanted it.  No, we had dug ourselves into this hole and now it was time we got ourselves out.  We were here for a reason. We came to create, to get noticed, to become somebodies. Whatever the proverbial it may be, it was here, and we were destined (desperate) to make it.

We decided to do a dry run at the mall because there are hundreds of people walking in every direction at any given point in time. Some people alone, some people with families, some people on dates, etc. The point was there would be plenty of opportunity for inspiration. 

And there we were, sitting on a bench outside of Wetzel’s Pretzels.  Ricky was munching on a cinnamon sugar pretzel while I had my notebook cracked open and my pen in hand.  Together, we peered across the courtyard and scoured for subjects.  Naturally, the first subject we chose was a pretty girl sauntering between stores, her none-too-pleased boyfriend in tow, carrying two bags from Guess, one bright pink bag from Victoria’s Secret, and one small bag from Tiffany’s.  The boyfriend was in the middle of, what appeared to be, a heated conversation with the piece of plastic he was holding to his ear. 

We heard mutterings like, “That is impossible...the money was in my account yesterday,” and, “my father is going to lose his shit if he hears about this.”  Beads of sweat boiled on his forehead; meanwhile, his significant other, the tanned and toned blonde with the daisy-dukes and the big cum-on-me tits, disappeared into Sephora.  The boyfriend stayed outside and leaned against the railing overlooking the three floors of shops below.  Ricky and I moved closer to continue our eavesdropping. 

On the phone, the boyfriend said, “You know what this means, right?  If that money is not there, I am fucking ruined. No!” he screamed.  “You listen to me!”  He lowered his voice and relaxed his breath.  “All of my cards are maxed out and there’s not a goddamn thing I can do about it.  Today is Tara’s birthday, and we're out shopping, okay?”  

We slid closer along the railing, so close, in fact,  that I could literally reach out and grab the boyfriend’s shoulder if I felt so inclined, but I kept my composure and remained innocuous.  Suddenly, The toned blonde, who I could only imagine was the Tara in question, emerged from Sephora with a sour look on her face.  

“Tommy,” She said solemnly.  “There’s some kind of problem with your card.”   

Tommy--the boyfriend--said into his phone, “I have to call you back,” and hung up.  He turned his attention to Tara.  “Babe, what’s wrong?”  

“I don’t know,” she said.  “They told me the card was declined or something.”  

Under his breath, I could hear Tommy utter, “Motherfucker.”  

“Well, what are you going to do?” she asked.

Tommy ignored her.  “Babe, this mall sucks.  Let’s get out of here.”

“No,” she pleaded with puppy-dog eyes.  “They have the exact eyeliner I want and the most perfect cover-up. Please?”

“Fuck that,” said Tommy.  “Let's go.”

Tara stomped her foot.  “But, it’s my birthday!  I want it and it’s your job to get it for me.”

This was too much for Ricky.  He couldn’t contain himself and burst out laughing.  He tried to cover his mouth, but Tara’s whiny response was in such typical trust-fund baby fashion, that his laughs were impossible to muffle.  

Tara pouted and looked toward us.  She knew why he was laughing.  

Tommy peered over.  “Something funny?” He asked.

“Inside Joke,” I said.

Tommy approached.  “I bet this is really fucking funny, isn't it?” He said.

“That’s why we’re laughing,” I said.

Tommy toughened up.  “Got something to say, say it to my face.”

“Oh yeah?” Ricky said.  “I got something to say.”  He turned his attention to Tara, “Happy Birthday, sweetheart”

 “Yeah, and good luck with your credit card, Tommy,” I said, ushering Ricky toward the escalators

“What was that?”  Tommy called, voice cracking.

“I hope daddy can take care of it,” Ricky yelled as we descended.

We rode down to the first floor, keeping our eyes on Tommy, who didn’t make any attempt to follow.  Tara approached and put her hand on his shoulder.  He swatted it away and turned his back.  

We left the mall that day with a new story to tell, but at the risk of getting into a fight, it wasn’t nearly worth the trouble.  The main problem, we realized, was that we couldn’t openly discuss the subjects as they presented themselves in front of us; we had to remain silent observers.  That was something I resented.  I wanted the freedom to craft and speak up in the moment; that’s where the fun is, and that’s where the best ideas reside.  

In my mind, the mall was a failure.  We needed a new plan.

That’s when it hit us to take the game on the road.  Drivers have unabashed faith in their car being a sacred place where nobody can see or hear them.  In the car, a solo-motorist can listen to their music on full blast and sing and dance in their seat without worry.  Drivers and passengers can speak openly about money, relationships, and sex.  Couples can argue or even please one another without fear of eavesdropping ears or peeping eyes.  The car is a bubble; an oasis safe from the outside world, but we were about to penetrate it.

In our car, we would have total freedom to say whatever we pleased about the others on the road, being as politically correct or as ignorant as we wanted.  Who would care?  Nobody would hear us anyway.  We would be perfectly isolated in our own traveling writer’s room.  It sounded like a dream, and a perfect opportunity to make something of ourselves.

We were in Ricky’s car, on our way to the beach and passing a joint when we decided to give it a try.    

"Look out my window." Ricky said, pointing his finger and steaming from a fresh rip. "The red Tacoma with the broken window. You see it?"  

I looked and found said truck. Not only was the rear passenger side window sealed with duct tape and a trash bag, but the driver looked like a 1,000 year old Mayan with sagging leather skin and a ragged straw hat on it's head.

"What the hell is that thing?" I asked. "Looks like return of the undead cowboy."

"I was thinking Hollis Brown." Ricky said.

"Oh god, in the flesh!" I said. "Definitely Lynchian."

"Definitely Lynchian." Ricky affirmed.

"Where do you think it’s going?" I asked.

"The truck?" He asked.

"No, the thing driving it. I'm not even convinced that's a human being behind the wheel." I said.

"Going? I don't know,” he said.  “I was thinking more along the lines of where did he come from?"

"So, you think it is a man?" I asked.

"It's whatever we want it to be,” he said.  “That's the point of the game.  Maybe we could use the androgyny to our advantage."  

I thought for a moment, letting the joint rest.  "Okay. I got it!  In the middle of a sex change operation, Señor Sol, lost all of his money, and in a fit of despair he drank himself to death; except he didn't die, he just fell into a coma in the middle of the desert for 1,000 years.  He/she/it just woke up mere hours ago and is now on a crusade to find and kill the person who stole his fortune."

"Great character" Ricky said, oozing sarcasm.

"Hey, what do you expect from me. You picked him, " I said.  

"If we're going to do it, we ought to take it seriously, right?" He asked.  

"Yes sir,” I said, conceding.  

"I'm not joking," he said.  

"OK. OK.”  I said, diffusing the situation.  “Let's find a better subject. Somebody a bit more, err, unassuming."

"Pass me that joint," he said. I re-lit the joint and handed it to him.  "Here's what I'm thinking,” he continued.  “We need more traffic; these cars are moving too fast. We can't get a good look at the drivers. I say we head downtown, where the 101 meets the 110 and the 10. Traffic is hellish there. We’ll definitely find somebody worth exploring."

"Fine by me,” I said.  “Beach isn't going anywhere."  

So, we rerouted and just as we approached the exit for Central Ave., things began to slow down.  Speedometers regressed to zero and the supposed highway became a bonafide parking lot.  

Conditions were perfect.  Now it was time to play...        

Big Trouble in Little Suburbia.

...It was almost too easy, which is a bit strange to say; feels almost scary, unreal; like it was only a dream. 

Jesus, I can’t believe I really just said that.  How cliché can I be?  But in a way that should be expected, right?  You accomplish something no one has ever done before and immediately you start looking for familiarity.  Clichés are often the easiest explanation, I guess.  

It may have felt like a dream, but I tell you, I have never been more conscious in my life. 

What began as an abstract idea, practically as a joke I would tell people just to gauge what kind of grotesque response I could evoke, has now become my reality.  It’s funny the way life works like that; you create something in your mind and verbalize it, depositing it into the atmosphere, the proverbial community think-space, and there it sits, growing, festering, manifesting a mind of its own.  The idea evolves into a plan; a plan of attack.  That’s when action must be taken, and that is exactly what I did.  I took action and set out to accomplish what I had been joking about for almost a year.

ACCOMPLISH. 

God, I love saying that; it makes what I did sound like a glorious feat, makes it sound like I overcame incredible odds and adversity to achieve my goal.  And I did.  I doubt many people--let alone a seventeen-year-old boy—could even theorize, contemplate, or most importantly execute with so much as a glimmer of the grace I practiced. 

I have done the unthinkable and the impossible, and I did it with my bare hands. 

 

*          *          *

Name: Ron Mesquit.

Age: Seventeen.

Occupation: Junior at Rally High School.

 

Kyle? Yeah, of course I know him; that kid’s a freaking weirdo.

Sorry.

He’s just, like a weird kid, you know?  I’m not trying to be a dick; I mean, look, everyone thinks he’s weird, all right?  He’s the type of kid who thinks its cool to draw dicks on his test papers or make a tinny in the middle of class and pretend he was going to light it up when the teacher turned her back.  He’s a D-wing kid.

D-wing kids are the kids who, you guessed it, spend their time in the D-wing of the first floor.  It’s the section for the shop class kids, the trailer kids, and the kids who take seven years to graduate.  I mean, come on, it's no surprise the Dean’s office is right there.  If they’re not serving in-school suspension, they’re usually perpetually sitting outside his door. 

Did I use that word right? Perpetually.  Vocab word of the day, you know?  Whatever.

Anyway, Kyle would sometimes make jokes in class, like if someone were to mispronounce something stupid or give a wrong answer he would mimic, you know, like a game show buzzer or something.  And, yeah, of course we would all laugh and the kid we were laughing at would turn red and feel dumb for a second, but that was really it.  Outside of that I barely paid attention to him.

A bully?  No, I wouldn’t say that exactly.  He is fairly intimidating, I guess—tall, thousand yard stare, wears baggy clothes.  I don’t know; maybe from a distance he looks tough, but, honestly, I would bet he has never been in an actual fight before, and I’m sure a lot of that has to do with his upbringing. 

Kyle might appear to be poor or something like that, but don’t be fooled, his parents have the biggest house in town; it’s like the house from Home Alone, it’s so big.  Kyle’s dad is an investment banker, I think, and his mom is an optometrist--I know because she’s my eye doctor.  To say Kyle’s family is well-off would be an understatement.

That being said, I know next to nothing about his home life.  I heard from a few people that Kyle’s parents are pretty strict, but then again, whose aren’t, you know?  Everyone thinks their parents are jerks if they don’t let them do whatever they want 24/7. 

Yeah...I saw something once.  I mean, call it whatever you want, but yeah I saw something. 

I was at track practice.  It was raining, so coach made us practice in the gym and run laps through the hallways and up and down the stairs.  I guess Kyle had detention or something and his dad was picking him up, or maybe his dad was called in to see a teacher about something or other, but regardless, I saw the two of them walking together.  I could hear them arguing; I don’t know what about, but his dad was pretty mad.  I saw…oh, man, I don’t want this to be like blown up or anything, you know, like, I’m not trying to make this seem bigger than it was, but I saw Kyle’s dad put his hands on him, like forcefully.  His dad pushed him to the ground.  But he picked him back up like a second later.  I’m sure it was an accident or, I don’t know, maybe his dad realized how many kids were in the hallway; witnesses, maybe?    

I don’t know if I would call that abuse or whatever, but that was definitely the moment I noticed something wasn’t right at home.         

 

*          *          *

That’s where things get a bit more complicated.  What do you want to hear?  That they were evil? Villainous? That I was a mere victim rebelling against their tyranny?

Sorry to disappoint you.   

The simple response is, why not?  But I guess most people have trouble living with ambiguity.  Mystery frightens most people,  Closure provides a certain level of comfort.  More like a false sense of security, if you ask me, but then again, I’m just a kid, right?  What do I know? 

For starters, I know what it feels like to exterminate.  To take what once was and turn it into nothing.  I know what it feels like to end something, someone.  I’ve watched life drain, disappear, and I’ve absorbed that moment in my mind forever.  I’ve taken what was theirs and made it my own, stole their essence, digested their energy, and assimilated their soul.  That power now belongs to me, and with it I become greater than man. 

For me, that acquisition of power is the most definitive “why.”  Everything else is just mindless fodder and a pitiful excuse for a crime.

 

*          *          *

Name: Rebecca Dolan.

Age: Sixteen.

Occupation: Junior at Rally High School

 

Oh, of course I know Kyle.  Well, okay, maybe I don’t “know” him, exactly. We’ve never hung out or anything, but I wouldn’t be totally against the idea.    

I guess he is a bit anti-social.  I never see him at any of the football games, which is kinda weird because that’s like the one thing all the students rally behind.  Football is pretty big in this town, you know? 

Oh! I did see him once at one of the school plays.  Yeah, my little brother was in it; I think the show was Charlie Brown.  Kyle was in it too.  Well, not really “in” it.  He was on stage crew.  I remember he had to wear all black all the time; I guess it’s so like the props and stuff would seem like they are magically appearing and disappearing; it’s pretty silly.  Kyle was so tall;  I recognized him right away; even in the darkness I could see him lumbering on stage.  I don’t know why of all things he did stage crew, maybe it was just really easy for him, or maybe he was forced into it.  I don’t know.  In either case, I think it was his only extra-curricular.

We have a class together; only one: English.  He’s usually pretty attentive; quiet, but he seems like he knows the material.  Meanwhile,  I’m always lost.  I don’t understand poetry and would never read books like A Farewell to Arms, or Crime and Punishment if I wasn’t being forced to.  I am always finding myself distracted.

I don’t know if I would call it admiring, but I do watch him in class.  He’s cute, I guess; in like a weird kind of way.  He’s good looking, sure, and he has a sense of humor, you know every once in a while he’ll make a joke and the class will laugh. 

I like him, but like I said, I don’t think I secretly admire him or anything, I just sometimes let my eyes rest on him for a little while I daydream.  

 

*          *          *

Don’t tell me you’re actually curious.  That’s an unusual feeling, isn’t it?  Intrigue.  The internal war; on the surface you are disgusted, revolted, but on the inside you are clamoring for more horror, more juicy details.  You want it to get worse, go lower, dig deeper.  You don’t want to know the monster in the closet, under the bed, but you want to feel its pain, its destruction.  Like cage-diving, you want to witness the great white fear, so close you can reach out and touch it, but you desire safety, you require a divide between you and it.  The classic battle between Man and Beast. 

You want to know the truth?  Fine, I’ll give it to you straight. 

Friday night I walked into the garage and found a hammer—black with a red rubber handle.  My dad must’ve used it a thousand times.  I always used to watch him with envy; I wanted that hammer as my own. 

Now it’s all mine. 

I took that black hammer with the red rubber handle and I walked back into the house, upstairs to my parent’s bedroom.  It was 10:00 PM and they were getting ready for bed.  My dad was putting away freshly folded clothes, and my mom was in the master bathroom.

My dad’s back was turned.

THWACK!

One solid blow from the blunt end to the back of the head was enough to drop him to the floor.

Almost too easy, like I said.

THWACK!

Another blow to his head and his skull cracked as the hammer broke through and pulverized the meat inside. 

My mom had heard my dad fall.  She heard the crushing of his bones. 

I used the hammer to push open the bathroom door, smearing blood across the wood.  She stared at me, stunned, her back against the running sink, her bathrobe halfway undone.

“…Honey, please--”

THWACK!

Shut up Bitch.

The metal shattered her jaw, sending blood and teeth flying across the room, dancing on the tile and linoleum.  Mom fell with her face in the sink, the water rinsing the blood, washing away her life.

I raised the hammer once more over my head and with one determined swing it was all over.  They were dead and I was more alive than ever before.

...Now, there’s nothing left to do but celebrate, of course. 

And what more appropriate way than by hosting a party?  A killer house party.  A party for the end of the world, and everyone is invited.  All of the losers, the nerds, the geeks, the freaks, the worms, the queer, the underperforming, the overachieving, the jocks, the punks, the studs, the sluts.  All of those who forgot about me, negated me, wrote me off, left me for dead—even they will have an invitation.  All are deserving of this.  All will bask in my glory, my greatness. 

Tonight, I am king, and tomorrow I will be legend.   

Only The Wealthy Are Immaculate.

Only the Wealthy are Immaculate.

The Three were searching for hope. They were longing for a way out, a new beginning and a chance for a better life, but above all else, they were fighting  for freedom.

But with any reward comes risk, and in this game the stakes were high; a loss in the real world is just another excuse to find something new to pass the time with, but in here a loss could cost a man his life. To play this game once must be willing to pay the ultimate price.

Dupree Black called the room to attention. Dupree was a burly fellow, big and meaner than a rabid dog. His yellow jaundiced eyes cast a bleak scowl into the crowd and his midnight complexion strung uneasy tension across each man looking in his direction. Peering out far beyond any man he declared:

“The pit is for fighters only. Spectators leave now while you still can. All new fighters step forward and present yourselves.”

The Three emerged from the crowd of fellow freedom fighters, their skin intact and their nails clean; no bruises and no limps in their step. Their clothes were relatively clean and untattered, but everyone’s clothes in this town expressed at least a modicum of dirt. In poverty one find comfort living within a certain amount of filth. Only the wealthy are immaculate.

The Three approached the statuesque Dupree whose eyes never shifted as if he was staring at all three of them simultaneously and with equal intent.

“Gentlemen, from this point forward everything you’ve come to understand about life disappears along with your names, but don’t be afraid. You are not alone; you are one of many.”

Dupree signaled with his hands for the militia of the men to approach. Soon the crowd of fighters surrounded The Three where they assimilated into the horde. All individuality subsided and soon their faces were indiscernible from the rest.

Everyone eagerly stared upward toward the master. His yellow eyes gleamed and he flashed a smile of broken teeth to the adoring crowd.

“Gentlemen, tonight we make history. Let the games begin!”An electric charge surged through the masses; adrenaline pumped through every man’s heart and dripped off his tongue. The fighters were seething.

The ceremony ceased and they were hungry. They were starved for blood, for pain and suffering, all in the name of the greater common good. These men were not alone in their plight, they fought side by side with the likeminded; gang mentality superseded all.

Chanting to themselves and flexing every muscle in their bodies like hungry dogs, the fighters stood their positions in front of the giant titanium shutter doors ready for war.

Suddenly the doors burst open and sunlight flooded the eyes of the fighters momentarily blinding them and further fueling their collective rage. Like a hungry pack of wild banshees the fighters charged out of the gate spitting and cursing and screaming their way unto an unsuspecting world.

This city has had it coming for years. It’s about time a real fury came to clean this city of the filth and waste. This city will burn from the fire swelling within the hearts of these men. Nobody will be spared, the vagrant, the meek, the vile, the weak; all will suffer the same grotesque fate.

The fighters ferociously attacked the streets with the passion of one thousand dead souls. On this day those souls will finally receive retribution, these men will be the vessel for their message. This will be the day of reckoning.

Dupree watched as his creations pillaged and burned and scorned and raped and killed their way to freedom. He watched contended knowing this moment in time would never be forgotten. His men will sacrifice themselves for something much greater than they could possibly comprehend, Dupree’s legacy. He will be remembered forever and he will achieve the truest and most pure form of freedom. He will become immortalized.